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Review: FISHERMANS FRIENDS THE MUSICAL makes for a reel-ly fun night out

Review: FISHERMANS FRIENDS THE MUSICAL makes for a reel-ly fun night out

On stage now through January 15

The latest musical to join Mirvish's current season lineup is all about the importance of community, love, family, and of course, a talented band's well-earned recognition. While a musician underdog story isn't a brand new concept, it's refreshing to see it done so well - and luckily for audiences, FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS THE MUSICAL is packed to the gills with gorgeous music and vocal performances.

Presented by Mirvish, the original UK cast brings the world premiere of the new musical to Toronto. Directed by James Grieve with a book by Amanda Whittington and music as performed by the original Fisherman's Friends, the it's a two-and-a-half hour blast of fun. The story is fairly simple; focusing primarily on the band's unofficial leader Jim (James Gaddas) and his relationships with his daughter Alwyn (Parisa Shahmir), his parents Jago (Robert Duncan) and Maggie (Susan Penhaligon), and his bandmates. Setting the whole show in motion is the arrival of Danny (Jason Langley), a washed-up London-based music manager who's stopped in their home of Port Isaac and catches the acapella group's performance on the docks one evening.

What follows is the wild chase of Danny's efforts to get the band to record a demo, be heard by music industry executives, and to be welcomed within the community of Port Isaac. With such a large cast, focusing on a few smaller plot points makes sense and helps move the story along. FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS THE MUSICAL does a great job of still highlighting its entire cast, with band members on stage alongside the cast at almost all times they're performing. The full group of fishermen have great camaraderie, and all play off each other well enough to think they have been out to sea together their entire lives.

Gaddas makes a truly empathetic guide through the story. Jim's stoicism comes from a rocky past, and Gaddas does an excellent job of peeling away at the character while remaining loveable even at his gruffest. As Jim's headstrong daughter Alwyn, Shahmir delivers a standout performance both narratively and vocally. She's got great chemistry with all her co-stars, especially in a late act-two scene with Gaddas. As the fiery music manager Danny, Langley is a classic fish-out-of-water. Watching him learn to navigate the tightly-knit Port Isaac community, while balancing his belief in the band's skills against his own ambition, is impressive.

There's a large ensemble cast, but a few characters receive their own plotlines and stand out especially because of it. As bandmember Leadville (Anton Stephans), Stephans delivers some witty one-liners and a lot of heart. New parents Rowan (Dan Buckley) and Morwenna (Louisa Beadel) are heartwarmingly sweet in their shared scenes, and really pack in the emotional weight of their characters' realities in a simple, striking way. Duncan gives an unassuming performance as Jago, Jim's father and the band's oldest member, that makes incredible sense for his character while still being what the story needs to power through some heavy narrative moments. As Duncan's on-stage wife, Penhaligoon is the grandmother everyone wants - funny, vibrant, and a larger-than-life presence that brightens the stage whenever she takes its center. Enough can't be said for the entire cast and band, who are performing double-duty as both the show's musicians as well as featuring as members of the Port Isaac community.

The stage design (set and costume design by Lucy Osborne) is elaborate in the simplest way - the town pub becomes the docks with just a few set piece swaps. Tall walls lined with railings, beams, and fishing equipment enclose the main stage in a way that helps contain everything neatly. The creative depiction of a fully-manned fishing boat on the water steals the show in its first moments, with lighting (lighting design by Johanna Town) setting the mood in each scene. Sound design (sound design by Dan Samson) is extremely adaptive - some scenes drop backing instrumentals and ambient noise entirely, where at other times the boisterousness of a local pub requires a mix of sounds to crash together from every angle.

What makes the show so special is its music; the story and cast do a great job of conveying the magic of old sailor's songs, or shanties. It's a beautiful form of music that has gained some traction thanks to groups like Fisherman's Friends, but it can be hard to understand the feeling of hearing those songs if you've never experienced them live yourself. On top of the fact that FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS THE MUSICAL features a stellar cast, eye-catching design, and lively choreography (choreographed by Matt Cole), it's really a show where the music takes the spotlight. Without those songs, there wouldn't be a Fisherman's Friends band at all, nor this musical. This show does a wonderful job of paying tribute to the history of its music while ushering in a new generation of appreciators - and perhaps even future performers - to carry on those traditions.


FISHERMANS FRIENDS THE MUSICAL runs through January 15 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St W, Toronto.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/fishermans-friends-the-musical

Photo credit: Pamela Raith



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